April 20, 2006
Michael Douglas saves the day in slick “Sentinel”
By Kirk Honeycutt
slick enough thriller about a presidential assassination
attempt. It is also a rather mechanical, soulless affair that
avoids politics or anything else that might clearly define who
these characters are and why we should care other than that's
the First Family and these are the valiant Secret Service
agents sworn to protect the president's life.
Michael Douglas heads a sharp cast that performs with
drill-like precision under fast-paced direction from Clark
Johnson ("S.W.A.T."). Business looks good for opening weekend,
but because better White House dramas have been on TV in recent
years, box office probably won't rise above midrange in major
For all its D.C. trappings and behind-the-scenes glimpses
of the White House, Secret Service and the Presidential
Protection Division's elaborate, state-of-the-electronic-arts
control center, "Sentinel" basically reworks every police
thriller where a top cop falls under suspicion and must use the
tools of his trade to prove his innocence while on the lam.
"You are chasing your worst nightmare," barks agent David
Breckinridge (Kiefer Sutherland) as he sends fellow agents
after Secret Service superstar Pete Garrison (Douglas), his
former buddy and now greatest antagonist. Pete once took a
bullet for President Reagan, but now he is being framed and
blackmailed. So Pete must save his reputation and the president
from assassination in a matter of hours.
The trouble is that the "worst nightmare" line comes past
the halfway point. Getting there takes too much time and too
many leaps of logic that never get closed in a final shootout
that is a wee over the top. The movie could have used more of
the cop-against-his-own-system and less of the contrivances and
implausible melodrama from screenwriter George Nolfi (working
from Gerald Petievich's novel).
First we're asked to believe that the first lady (an
unusually demure Kim Basinger) is conducting an affair with the
head of her Secret Service detail under the president's nose.
That would be Pete and, yes, it's really Michael Douglas, but
c'mon! The first lady and a Secret Service guy!
OK, let's move on to the murder of Pete's colleague moments
before he was to share confidential information with Pete. The
investigation falls to Breckinridge, who hates Pete's guts
because he thinks Pete slept with his wife, whom he has since
An old informant of Pete's turns up with convincing
evidence that a traitor exists within the Secret Service. That
investigation gets folded into the murder inquiry just as Pete
receives photos of him and the first lady in what used to be
called "compromising positions."
Once Pete goes underground, the film picks up stream.
Douglas is now free to be an action hero, while Sutherland
makes an intriguingly conflicted nemesis. Along for the ride is
a glamorous rookie agent played by Eva Longoria. (She keeps
interrupting the trains of thought of all the male characters.)
Martin Donovan, as the agent in charge of the president (David
Rasche), holds down the fort with whimsical ambiguity, while
the women -- Basinger and Blair Brown as the National Security
Adviser -- get sidelined by the action.
"Sentinel" fails in comparison to the last really good
Secret Service movie, Wolfgang Petersen's 1993 "In the Line of
Fire" starring Clint Eastwood. There, the cat-and-mouse game
between an agent and potential assassin dripped with believable
character details without shortchanging action or suspense.
Here, the filmmakers seem to feel this is an either/or thing.
So they opt for action over character. Thus we never get to
discover why such an exacting, conscientious guy as Pete is
such a moral screw-up. That might have been the real guts to
This D.C./Toronto production does benefit from Gabriel
Beristain's deep-color cinematography, Cindy Mollo's sharp
editing, Andrew McAlpine's solid production design and
Christophe Beck's rousing score.
Pete Garrison: Michael Douglas
David Breckinridge: Kiefer Sutherland
Jill Marin: Eva Longoria
William Montrose: Martin Donovan
Handler: Ritchie Coster
Sarah Ballentine: Kim Basinger
National Security Adviser: Blair Brown
President Ballentine: David Rasche
Director: Clark Johnson; Screenwriter: George Nolfi; Based
on the novel by: Gerald Petievich; Producers: Michael Douglas,
Marcy Drogin, Arnon Milchan; Executive producer: Bill Carraro;
Director of photography: Gabriel Beristain; Production
designer: Andrew McAlpine; Music: Christophe Beck; Costumes:
Ellen Mirojnick; Editor: Cindy Mollo.